As a consultant, I help companies build bigger moats around their brands. One exercise I use to do this involves finding what you could call “uncommon expertise.” It applies just as well to brands as people.

For instance, let’s assume that Covid has got you re-evaluating your career and you’re now considering pivoting to become a consultant like me. You’ll get paid for your expert advice and have the freedom to carve out your own schedule and work remotely, among other perks. Cool, right? All of which raises the question: What, exactly, are you an expert at?

I suppose you could argue that everyone is an expert at something. A baby could be an expert at crying, or pooping. But so are lots of babies. The golden ticket to becoming a high-paid consultant is possessing an uncommon expertise. Crying and pooping don’t cut it.

You may already know what your uncommon expertise is. But you may not know know. By which I mean, you may need to do some digging to get down to the fundamentals of what you do and what you know. For some of us, this will require a shovel; for others, a backhoe. Here’s an exercise that can help you get started:

  1. Break your current job down into functions. Asking “But why?” can help you dig dipper here. When you can no longer answer this question for a given function, you may have reached the fundamental level you’re looking for.
  2. For each function, list at least 3 things you need to know. For instance, if you’re a software engineer for a hedge fund, you may need to know Python. As above, ask yourself “But why?” until you hit the end of the tunnel (to continue with our digging/mining metaphor).
  3. For which function do you add the most value? In other words, what’s the one function that your current employer (or a future consulting client) could least afford to do without?
  4. Which particular aspects of the function identified in step 3 are you uncommonly expert at? In marketing speak, this provides the basis for your “Unique Value Proposition.” As in steps 1 and 2, ask yourself “But why?” until you can’t answer it anymore.
  5. If you had 30 seconds to explain the expertise identified in step 4 to a potential client, how would you do it? This is the “Shark Tank meets speed dating” test. If you can’t explain your uncommon expertise in a simple and compelling fashion in 30 seconds, then you may need to go back to some earlier steps and repeat.
  6. For which function do you add the least value? The answer to this question will provide you with additional valuable insights.

Of course, there’s more to defining your expertise than the above exercise implies. For instance, you might be uncommonly expert at something that there isn’t much demand for, at least not at the pay level that you’re seeking. Also, you have to consider whether you’ll be providing expert advice to your clients, actually acting on that advice (a.k.a. “executing”), or both. And so on. The purpose of my exercise is to get you started. If you need more help from there, well, you know where to find me!